About a year and a half ago, Efren Cortez took center stage at Couch House, opening for Hail Varsity and worlds greatest dad. He introduced himself and his black electric bass he named Toothless, joking that the crowd is about to witness a two-piece act. He matched his bass guitar with his black Vans, shorts and graphic tee. It’s then that the onlookers realized Cortez was on stage alone with nothing but an empty drum kit behind him. He brushed his pale green hair out of his face and began to strum low notes out of Toothless’ four strings. Cortez accompanied Toothless with his vocals, creating a solo act he calls No Functional Purpose.
No Functional Purpose existed as Cortez’s solo act for four years, but with an EP on its way, he hopes to grow his group.
Cortez didn’t pick up the bass until he was 20, and he taught himself how to play over the next four years. However, he had been writing lyrics since high school, citing the Goo Goo Dolls and The Airborne Toxic Event as his first inspirations.
“I really loved their songwriting in terms of lyrical content,” he said. “They got me into writing lyrics and got me more into poetry. I did some creative writing in high school and took a few poetry classes in college, so I took what I learned from that and put them toward the songs I was making once I got my bass.”
He was inspired to share music of his own after attending local live shows around Lincoln in the second half of his college career at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I remember the idea for No Functional Purpose came in 2017,” Cortez said. “One [obstacle] was just school. I was really busy trying to graduate. So I decided that on my graduation date, which was Dec. 15, 2018, I would officially declare my music project to the world.
Though in the earlier years of No Functional Purpose, Cortez played upbeat pop punk, he now describes his sound as Midwest emo, a grungier, more hardcore version of pop-punk.
“Pop-punk is more upbeat with a faster tempo,” he said. “The Midwest emo I was inspired by was more of a slower tempo, more down-beat, more mellow, more aggressive and slower.”
Cortez is currently working with Magroover Studios on an EP he’s calling “Black Ring,” planning to record it soon and release it this spring or early summer. Cortez is asexual, and he said it’s common for asexual people to wear a black ring on their right ring finger. He said he envisions No Functional Purpose as a diverse three-piece of musicians including women, LGBTQA+ members and people of color.
“I identify as asexual, and I’m a minority, being Mexican-American, so I wanted to have my whole band be like that,” Cortez said. “It was kind of hard to find that.”
Warren Bable, who also plays in the Omaha band Second String, is playing guitar on the EP and encourages Cortez’s idea of a diverse band. Being part of the LGBTQA+ community himself — using he/they pronouns — Bable said he has also noticed a lack of representation in the rock scene.
“Emo, DIY, punk, all of those genres have ended up in a very white, cis-male place,” he said.
Bable said he expects Cortez’s dream of diversity to spread, and he feels No Functional Purpose is a good jumping off point for minority musicians.
“Any way that we can get more people involved in the scene is a good thing, and I think the best way to do that for people of color, for people in the LGBTQA+ community, in marginalized communities, is to give them representation,” Bable said. “The next step is to give them opportunities that people with privilege already have. I think it’s awesome that there’s going to be that spot for somebody in this community. That’s a very specific thing that doesn’t necessarily translate to changing the industry or the scene as a whole, but it’s those little things that ultimately matter.”
Cortez said he hopes others will take his lead and create more diversity in the rock scene. He also encourages others not to give up on their dreams of performing because they think it might be too late.
“When I wasn't playing music in my first half of college, I often felt like it was too late for me to get into a band since a lot of my friends who were playing — and a lot of my influences — started playing when they were in high school,” he said. “I didn't get my bass until I was 20, didn't declare my project until I was 22, and now I'm working on my first release at 24, so it's never too late to start.”